Last Updated on 2023/11/26
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Bass Gehu: The Chinese Answer to the Western Double Bass
The Bass Gehu (低音革胡), also known as Beige Hu (倍革胡), is a unique Chinese string instrument, similar to the Western double bass. This instrument, developed in the 1950s by Yang Yuxen (杨雨森), was created to enrich the bass section of traditional Chinese orchestras, mimicking the role of the double bass in Western symphonies.
Development and Design
The Bass Gehu’s design closely resembles its smaller counterpart, the Gehu (革胡), but with a significantly larger body. This instrument was also developed by Yang Yuxen during the 1950s, based on the Erhu, another traditional Chinese string instrument. The Bass Gehu underwent several modifications over time to improve its tone and appearance, thereby enhancing the lower registers of Chinese orchestras.
Playing Technique and Structure
The playing method of the Bass Gehu is akin to that of the Western double bass. Due to its large size, musicians typically perform either standing or seated on high chairs. It features four strings, with tuning identical to the double bass: E1-A1-D2-G2. The bow used is also similar to that of the double bass. The structure of the Bass Gehu is analogous to the Gehu, but its larger size necessitates a unique playing stance. The sound produced by the Bass Gehu is deep and rich, similar to that of its Western counterpart, but it also incorporates the distinctive timbre of traditional Chinese instruments.
Sound and Acoustics
In an effort to retain the snake-skin tone while not compromising on volume, the Bass Gehu’s bridge rests upon the body of the instrument. An internal lever system transmits the vibrations to the snake-skin on one side of the body. This design, however, results in a tonal quality that is significantly different from, and often considered inferior to, the Western double bass. Additionally, the instrument’s low center of gravity makes it more challenging to play.
Despite its innovative design, the Bass Gehu has not been widely adopted, primarily due to its less than ideal acoustic performance and high cost. Currently, it is used by only a few orchestras in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The unique combination of traditional Chinese elements with Western orchestral requirements makes the Bass Gehu a fascinating, albeit niche, instrument in the realm of world music.